1. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    General guide for writing historical fiction?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by jo spumoni, Jun 23, 2011.

    Hello all,
    I see a lot of "How to" books on writing novels and on writing fiction with specific genres, e.g. sci-fi or fantasy, but I was wondering if there was a particularly good book directed at writing historical fiction? I've done some googling and found a few guides, but I have no idea if any are good or not, and I'm not a big fan of wasting time or money on books that turn out to be useless. So just out of curiosity, has anyone come across a particularly good guide for writing historical fiction?
     
  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I haven't myself, but the general gist that I've learned is this:

    Write. Don't worry about the niggling little details just yet. Get the basic facts right and just go on from there. When the story is done, then you can go research a bit more.

    Oh, and research what is required for your story. If you're writing about a fisherman in Napoleonic France, then researching the political structure of the time is a waste, methinks.
     
  3. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Hey Link,
    I appreciate the reply.

    I'm researching as much as I can. The setting is Nazi Germany, so you can imagine there's a lot of information, and a lot of details I have to get right.

    I've written nonfiction stuff for college about history and archaeology, and I've written fiction that takes place in modern times. It's just the incorporation of fiction and history that I think I could use some advice on. But if there's no good guide, there's no good guide, and I'm certainly going to try and write the book regardless.
     
  4. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    Link gives amazing advice and I agree. Write first and get the basic groundwork, then start researching the finer points.
     
  5. looneywriter
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    looneywriter Member

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    I have read one "how-to" book on writing, and while there were some good points in it, I don't see it as a substitute for practice and listening to your inner voice when you sit down to create. (I have been writing for almost 20 years, but only for the past four with serious thought toward publication.)

    Some of your best resources are historical fiction novels that have already been published. Read as many as you can - it doesn't matter if they are in the same time period as yours or not. Read them with the intention of learning from the authors' styles and voices. What do you like or not like about each? What would you do differently? What would you like to emulate?

    As for personal experience, I agree with the statement to write first and research later. I am working on two separate historical fiction novels. One is set in Ancient Rome during the mid-1st century C.E. and the other is a YA pirate novel set in the 18th century.

    Two very different time periods, and two very different approaches for me.

    However, I have done some basic research before getting started. The Ancient Rome novel was much easier for me to begin, because I'm a Roman history nerd and already had a pretty good base of knowledge there. With the pirate novel, I'm only researching very important issues as I go and the marking bits I am unsure about to remind myself to check the accuracy after I finish the rough draft.

    Best of luck with your novel. And, since you are working on a WWII piece, I'd also suggest looking for primary resources (i.e. people who lived through it) you can't beat first-hand knowledge. I plan to write a WWII novel in the future, using my grandparents' experiences during the war as a basis for my fiction.
     
  6. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I really wish everyone would stop assuming that I consider a guide as a substitute for research, practice, or listening to my "inner voice." All I'm looking for is a guide that will supplement what I already know about writing and help me apply some of that knowledge to writing historical fiction. I've written enough to know that guides tend to be useful only in parts. I also have enough experience to know that writing is an individual process and that other people's methods are not always comparable to your own.

    "Write before you research" doesn't work for me because I currently don't have a very solid view of the era. I'm still in the preliminary research phase. And yes, I'm going to look at primary history. I already have a diary that goes through all 12 years of the Third Reich called I Will Bear Witness. What I'm finding with a lot of the sources, however, is that they're heavily skewed. People don't like to read something that isn't blatantly anti-Nazi or pro-Nazi. Consequently at my library I can get the diary of Klemperer, a Jew who hated the Nazis, or I can get the diary of the Nazi Goebbels. But the letters and diaries that are just written by regular people? Either unpublished or only in German. Anyway, I'm making do as best as I can, and there's no denying that whatever I write will be skewed by hindsight.

    This is a project that will probably take me years to finish, and I'm OK with that. I'm just looking for a little guidance in what is for me a very ambitious project. I'm only 19 years old and I've only finished one very short book, so while I have faith in my "inner voice", it's hard to ignore that I don't have all that much perspective or experience.
     
  7. looneywriter
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    looneywriter Member

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  8. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Sorry if I was defensive. It's probably pretty obvious I've never done this before, and some people kind of talk down to me when they realize I'm really young and trying to write such an ambitious project.

    You guys are all giving me good advice. Thanks a lot.
     
  9. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read some of The Historical Novel by Jerome De Groot which may help. It was quite interesting, and outlines some generic conventions and also in general with researching, writing, fact and fiction, that kind of thing. Look it up for yourself and see what you think.

    Otherwise, I agree with what's been said.
     
  10. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    There's a free online article you can try out. I'm sure that you heard of that article before. The Snowflake Method. Have you tried that yet? It doesn't really help you how to write a historical novel though. But it gives you an idea of where to go in general. Just google up "How to write a novel using the snowflake method." It's a good start for me. But unfortunately, I don't write novels anymore. I write movie scripts, so I'm not sure if I can help much.
     
  11. nouseforaname
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    nouseforaname Member

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    I found this online

     
  12. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Thanks, nouseforaname. I'll have to check that out.
     
  13. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    The May/June issue of Writer's Journal has a wonderful article about writing historical fiction. It's worth a read. You can find it at pretty much any B&N or order it directly from the website: http://www.writersjournal.com/
     

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